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Drug-resistant Bacteria Shifting the Treatment of Acne

Posted: April 17, 2009

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If they do prescribe antibiotics, it may be for only a limited time, usually a few months, and it's often combined with another medication that can lessen the drug resistance. Previously, patients might have continued on antibiotics for years. “The strong survive, the mutants survive and they become resistant,” says Dr. Jonette Keri, a Miami dermatologist.

Public health threat?

While drug-resistant acne can be devastating, the real danger is that it contributes to deadly drug-resistant staph infections. “The dangerous thing about putting zillions of folks on antibiotics is that this pressures bacteria to develop resistance methods,” says Dr. Peter Lio, a Northwestern University dermatologist. “So while the acne bacteria almost never causes life-threatening infection, the ways that it can be resistant to our antibiotics can be passed over to bacteria that can cause life-threatening infection, which means that our only weapons against the bad guys suddenly do not work anymore. If it became bad enough, it would be like the days before antibiotics, when infection was a common cause of death.”

Acne is a common teenage ailment, afflicting about 75–90% of teens. Even adult acne may be more common than many realize, with about 50% of adults suffering from acne at some degree, dermatologists say. “Acne is a really tough disease,” Lio says. “We can make a big difference with many patients, but it’s a humbling disease; it brings people down. People can be incredibly depressed coming in, so our job is to do whatever it takes to make them better.”

Between 10–30% of acne patients harbor at least some resistant bacteria, dermatologists say. Few studies have been published about drug-resistant acne, but French researchers found in 2001 that more than 50% of the isolates of the bug P. acnes were resistant to erythromycin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic.